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How to Bridge Between Millennials and Boomers in Your Small Business

Common stereotypes say that all boomers are grumpy know-it-alls who insist on ordering the younger generation around and that millennials are the true know-it-alls who will never admit that their older counterparts may have learned a thing or two during many years on the job. This leaves you with an important question: can baby boomers and millennials co-exist or even thrive in the same workplace?

Your small business cannot afford age-related discord when every person counts. Older workers are remaining on the job longer than they have in the past, but the millennial generation represents a larger percentage of people entering the workforce. So, how do you get two diverse factions to work together in peace and harmony? Here are five keys that can help them work together — and create alliances that make them valuable teams.

 #1. Personality matters when integrating older and younger workers.

It is very easy to view age as the only reason why your employees are not getting along. Not so fast- in reality, personality clashes are major sources of discord, regardless of age. You probably need to focus on personality types when developing good working relationships.

Every age group has its share of grumpy workers. If you arrange for any grumpy worker to mentor another one, you can expect the same explosive relationship as you would get by combining old and young grumpy workers.

So, when you need any grumpy employee to mentor someone, make sure that the mentee knows how to turn the other cheek. An employee who cannot create conflict will eventually stop trying, opening the door for a good relationship to develop.

Of course, successful employee combinations do not all pertain to levels of grumpiness. Combining individuals of like personality types can be successful as well. Put two high-energy workers together, for example, and you're likely to benefit from a powerhouse team.

#2. Mentoring can work in both directions.

It is common to assume that your company only needs the “old codgers” to mentor the young upstarts who just came in, but it's a two-way street. Everybody has knowledge to share. At one end of the spectrum, anyone with a longer history in the company can provide valuable advice on company processes and procedures. At the other end, the newbies probably have up-to-the-minute technical knowledge that identifies when those processes and procedures cry out for updates.

Your millennial team members have fewer pre-conceived notions to limit their thinking. When they envision new methods and technology that can make life better for everyone, they are willing share their ideas with everyone, young and old. Will a seasoned employee reject a valid idea that makes life easier? Of course not; few people want to work unnecessarily harder.

Rather than awarding ultimate power to a mentor, it's better to introduce both members of a new partnership as a team. There is nothing wrong with a healthy, respectful debate that may culminate in solutions that you can approve for implementation.

 #3. Develop relationships through shared experiences.

Boomers probably walked uphill in the snow to and from school each day… without shoes. Millennials probably had parents who drove them… until they could drive themselves. But, the fact is that they both went to school and the boomers recognize that going by car is better than traveling on foot.

Never assume that a past filled with challenges creates a person who wants the challenges to continue. Boomers are more likely to respect high-tech shortcuts, as long as they do not cause errors. Millennials don't want errors, either. They will agree to periodic quality checks, even if the process is a tad slower.

 #4. Focus on similarities.

Maybe it's time to ignore the generational differences and listen to the experts, who say that all age groups share certain needs. They all need (or at least prefer) meaningful work, they enjoy collaboration and they love to learn.

As the boss, you need to recognize these similarities and design jobs that incorporate them. Try to avoid assigning too many blindingly-mindless tasks. Provide teams with opportunities that capitalize both on similarities and differences to meet shared goals.

#5. Encourage teams to capitalize on each member's assets.

Older athletes necessarily favor strategic intelligence developed from experience over the brute strength that they had they had in their youth, but both approaches have value to the team. Your job is to help multigenerational workers to recognize each other's strengths — and recognize when those strengths provide the synergistic benefits that allow them to solve problems or modify processes together more effectively than they could do on their own.

True diversity strengthens any business environment.

Diversity extends beyond racial or other cultural differences, and certainly includes the differences between younger and older workers. Blending all types of diversity within a small work force helps bring high levels of excitement and innovation to every job. With a little encouragement, all generations can make vital contributions as your small business grows into a larger one.

About the author

Carol Roth is a radio host on WGN, a CNBC TV contributor, a ‘recovering’ investment banker & a bestselling author of The Entrepreneur Equation. You can find her on Twitter @CarolJSRoth or at www.CarolRoth.com. She also has an action figure made in her likeness.